Boris Johnson tells the MP for Batley and Spen: The best way to honour Jo Cox’s memory is to get Brexit done

The extraordinary words drew gasps all over the house. They will haunt the prime minister forever

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Thursday 26 September 2019 11:09 BST
Conservative MPs cheer Boris Johnson day after his suspension of Parliament found unlawful

“The best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox would be, I think, to get Brexit done.”

Those words left the prime minister’s lips in the House of Commons at just gone 8.30pm, on the day the house had been recalled to atone for his dishonesty.

He had been asked, by Tracy Brabin, the new MP for Batley and Spen, to moderate his language, to stop talking of “surrender” and “betrayal”. Language radicalises, after all. And Jo Cox had been murdered by a far-right nationalist called Thomas Mair, at the height of the EU referendum campaign. At his trial, he called her a “collaborator” and a “traitor” to white people.

The day before her death, her children and her husband had travelled up the Thames by speedboat, waving an “In” banner in the face of Nigel Farage’s Brexit flotilla.

She had been murdered in the act of fighting to keep Britain in the European Union.

And here was the prime minister, recalled to parliament to give account for his actions having been declared unlawful by the Supreme Court, having the unimaginable temerity to imagine the way to atone for Jo Cox’s murder would be in delivering the outcome she campaigned to prevent.

There were gasps in the chamber. They are words that will surely haunt him forever.

They came after an even more grim exchange with Labour’s Paula Sherriff, a former friend of Jo Cox’s who had raised the “death threats and the abuse that we as MPs are subjected to every day”, and that the language of “surrender and betrayal and traitors” was causing serious harm.

He told her he had “never heard so much humbug in my life”.

Two hours earlier, the prime minister’s statement had got off to a predictably abysmal start.

Four weeks ago, Boris Johnson announced he would be proroguing parliament. He called the TV cameras into Downing Street and told them it had absolutely nothing at all to do with Brexit. It was to allow for a Queen’s Speech, so he could get on with his “exciting domestic agenda”.

And lo, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared, unanimously, that such a claim could not possibly be true.

It declared his prorogation to be unlawful and sent the prime minister back to the House of Commons.

He had been compelled to give a statement on the Supreme Court’s verdict. It began like this.

“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on yesterday’s Supreme Court verdict and the way forward for this paralysed parliament.

“Three years ago, more people voted to leave the European Union than have ever voted for any party or proposition in our history.”

He spoke for six minutes on the subject of Brexit, before the Supreme Court judgement was even mentioned.

“I think the court was wrong to pronounce on what is essentially a political question at a time of great national controversy,” he said.

Four weeks ago, prorogation had had nothing to do with Brexit. He had been found to have not been telling the truth, and now here he was, disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s verdict, while speaking for six straight minutes about why it had absolutely everything to do with Brexit.

It was such an absurd lie that there was almost an honesty to it. To make so clear that, of course, prorogation had been about Brexit all along, while simultaneously telling the Supreme Court it was wrong. This was a lie so ridiculous it almost felt like he was coming clean.

If someone daubs the word LIAR across their forehead in black felt tip, can they really, in good faith, be accused of not telling the truth?

The short statement contained most of the traditional grim realities. Johnson has been prime minister for two months now. In that time, he has not uttered a word about how Brexit will offer anything of any value to the country.

It is only some thing to be got out of the way. We want to “get Brexit done”. He said it, five separate times, each time being a lie all of its own. He knows the real Brexit negotiations haven’t even started yet. Brexit will not be “done” for a decade, at best.

“Wouldn’t it be a fantastic thing if the word Brexit was never heard in 2020,” he said at one point. What a joke, except that we are all the punchline.

He spoke for around a quarter of an hour. Less than 10 seconds was spent on the Supreme Court and its verdict. The rest of it was spent demanding Jeremy Corbyn give him the election he wants on the date he wants, that will allow him to fight an election promising a deal with the EU, and then, inevitably, take the country out of the EU without one, ruining people’s lives and livelihoods.

But Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t trust him. Jeremy Corbyn thinks he is lying. So Jeremy Corbyn isn’t going to give him the election he wants, on the date he wants, to get on with the con job he is so desperate to deliver.

And Boris Johnson has no way to get it, beyond screaming gibberish about the Surrender Act and about Jeremy Corbyn being a chicken and being too scared to have an election, and all the rest of the pointless noise that can’t get him out of the hole that he has accidentally dug for himself, by not being a fraction as clever as he thought he was.

The only way out of this particular aspect of the impasse would be for Jeremy Corbyn to trust him. It is not, shall we say, immediately clear how Boris Johnson imagines he will win people’s trust by lying his way out of old lies with new ones.

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